Lifestream Post: An Ethnography of a MOOC

I’m blogging my ethnographic artefact, although it comes in two parts. The ethnographic narrative in the text below, and the video which is at the end of the post. The video below is one small, intended contribution to a film project that I have participated in, as a result of, but separate to the National Film and Television School MOOC. The video is significant in ethnographic terms, because each person in the film making group is contributing a different personal, local perspective on nature. Within the group we have already shared still images (details below), and the next point in the process is to collate and share moving image (details below). I’ve added titles for the version for this post, in order to give a sense of the evolving narrative, or journey of the community.

I have been on the Futurelearn National Film and Television School MOOC for the past three weeks. As background to my ethnographic snapshot. I am going to begin by collating some excerpts from earlier Lifestream posts on the topic of my MOOC experience (hence I have been blogging on this topic for the past three weeks). Thus, in earlier Lifestream posts I have referred to Kozinets (2010, p23) citing Walther (1997); as this comment expressed the nature of aspects of my MOOC experience from the perspective of being part of an emergent on line ‘educational’ community, and elements of my participation in it:


If people believe that their interaction is going to be limited and will not result in future interactions, then their relations will tend to be more task orientated. If however, a future interaction is anticipated, participants will act in a friendlier way, be more co-operative, self disclose and generally engage in socially positive communications.’


Similarly there was (in an earlier post I made) the observation regarding the distinction which Kulavuz-Onal and Va´squez make, ‘Reconceptualising fieldwork in a netnography of an online community of English language teachers’: Derya Kulavuz-Onal and Camilla Va´squez (2012) (‘defining the field’) citing Kozinets (2012, cited p227; 2010), between studying the culture of an online environment (in my case a MOOC and Facebook) and studying the community itself, and additionally their observation that there is a distinction (2012, p228) between a community which is located within one online ‘venue’ and one which is spread over two or more, and where there are shared practices, beliefs and attitudes (2012, p228) (possibly aims and motivations- ‘a shared purpose’ if you will) not defined by a particular site, but is something prior and therefore not molded by the architecture of the site or its activities (a MOOC in this case).


This all seemed highly relevant for my ethnographic snapshot, as the focus of my study has been on the way in which the NFTS MOOC community in one case, extended itself beyond the bounds of the MOOC, which was the initial primary field of study, in the creation of a Facebook group, the aim of which was to form a ‘global production team’ who would make a film together. All of this of course seems consistent with Kozinets comments above (2010). Participants in the MOOC range from locations as diverse as Mexico, India, Japan, Russia, and Europe. It does seem that every continent is accounted for, with the exception possibly of Antarctica.


The NFTS MOOC consists of multiple third party streams, including a twitter feed, Youtube channel and Pinterest boards, the latter two are used for participants to post their artefacts as the outcome of activities, for example the creation of storyboards, scene visualization and films which they have completed. The twitter feed is frenetic in its pace of contributions at times, dynamic in comments and referencing of film content, much of course via Youtube and Vimeo. The discussion board is however the principal medium for learner- learner (community) interaction within the MOOC. Within the NFTS MOOC, each week there is a theme, for example story telling; planning shooting a scene and shooting a scene. There are plenty of examples of scenes from films, instructional videos and pieces to camera from film professionals and there is also a ‘short film of the week’, but the aim here is student creation of artefacts within the process of film making, with much asynch reflection and debate on the discussion board for the week, but strands from previous weeks remain active into following weeks.


Referring once more to an earlier post I made in my Lifestream, Stewart in ‘Massiveness + Openness = New Literacies of Participation’ (2013, pp229- 30) provides a distinct set of categories differentiating the c MOOC and the x MOOC. Although the NFTS is an elite institution as a third party partner to Futurelearn, this would put it in Stewart’s (2013) x MOOC category, however it does seem to consist of just the kind of ‘participatory exploration’ of the connectivist c MOOC (2013), and the creation of the global film making group in Facebook, seems to underwrite this point. Referring to Stewart once more, the NFTS MOOC emphasizes ‘peer networking and student sense making contributions’ (2013). Again the inception of the film project group outside of the MOOC underlines this point. Kozinets (2010) also has a nice contribution to make here, in the observation that (2010, p28):


‘Regardless of medium or exact pathway to participation, the theory suggests that, over time and with frequently increasing communications, the sharing of communications, the sharing of personal identity information…-that social and cultural information permeates every exchange, effecting a kind of gravitational pull that causes every exchange to become coloured with emotional, affiliative, and meaning rich elements.’


This comment from Kozinets (2010) rang very true on February 11th , when I joined the discussion board, and this is really where the story begins, from the perspective of my ethnographic snapshot. A participant made the comment that the course ‘inspired’ and why don’t we (the course participants) make a film together. The suggestion was made a second time and now a flood of posts came up, with people introducing themselves, giving some background information about there interest in film (script writer, editor, director, journalist and so on) but the most important thing to people was their location (country) and as each person added their part of the globe, you could feel the excitement mounting. Still on February 11th , on the same strand on the message board, people now moved to the ‘how’. How can we ‘connect’ and organize ourselves for the film project? I had participated from the outset, expressing my interest in being part of the film project, but declaring that I was also on the NFTS MOOC for research purposes for my MSc in Digital Education. There were then different ideas as to how we could coordinate and ‘share ideas’ and plan. One such suggestion was a Google Hangout (actually by me and one other person), however the person who suggested the project set up a Facebook group and posted the link on the message board for the next day (February 12th). I requested to join the Facebook group on February 13th and my request was accepted. On February 15th an NFTS tutor posted ‘Good luck guys’. At this point the story does shift to the Facebook group, although this week on February 25th a newcomer to the film project group posted on the original NFTS MOOC strand, from the Himalayas, and although a little shy was encouraged to join in on the Facebook group. All of this had a very inclusive and collegiate feel or as Kozinets (2010) mentions above ‘affiliative, emotional and meaning rich’ in its elements.


The Facebook group now has thirty nine members who have joined, as mentioned from different parts of the world. A theme was proposed by the Facebook group’s initiator, of personal global perspectives on nature, the idea being that we all contribute material which could then be weaved into a narrative and the group variously set about posting images as a kind of ‘key framing’ of the film and fleshing out the concept. I contributed an image of Kamikochi Mountain in Nagano Japan a favourite place I like to visit:


Kami Between February 13th and today (February 28th) postings to the group have been regular, serious and have developed the theme, (with only images being posted at this point, as opposed to film or video) the barriers which may present and ways of overcoming these, obviously thirty nine people working across different global contexts are going to have challenges. Interpretation of the film’s theme has been refined, technical issues relating to production equipment and film (video) formats, have been discussed and are on going and so there has been an important awareness of the need to know who has got which specialist skills. Interestingly over the past twenty four hours there have been six new posts on the Facebook group, with multiple responses. The theme itself is still under discussion but the logistical issue of data (video) storage has come up for much scrutiny with Google Drive, odrive (Drop Box) being settled upon. The sharing of ideas can now be matched with a sharing of content (film and video), and the collaboration can step up a notch. All of this seems to reflect what Stewart means when she cites Lankshear & Knobel (2013, cited p229; (2007, pp 9,18)) and says:


‘New digital literacies, however have an ethos component as well as a technological one: ‘new literacies are more ‘participatory’, ‘collaborative’, and ‘distributed’’ (2007, p9). The new literacies ethos ‘celebrates inclusion (everyone in), mass participation, distributed expertise, valid and rewardable roles for all who pitch in’ (2007, p18).


This appears to be the ethos of the global film making Facebook group, and indeed of the NFTS MOOC, which the group’s members overtly cite as having made it possible and inspired its creation, but this is not just in terms of skills imparted, but because of the ‘connectivist’ (2013), nature perhaps of the NFTS MOOC and the ‘sense making’ (2013) opportunities for participants, which it afforded. It was certainly pointed that a course tutor wished everyone luck with the  global film making endeavour.


5 responses

  1. Miles, I enjoyed reading about your collaborative creative processes with your newfound global MOOC colleagues. The Bonnie Stewart quote about ‘new digital literacies’ sums up nicely the power of both the MOOC and enabling technologies. I will be interested to see your MOOC group’s final product and to learn how you resolved the logistical issues of collaboration; whether by use of Google Drive or another platform. I am also genuinely interested in participating in this type of collaborative film-making, and I am currently in Japan, so maybe we can collaborate in the future, as you seem to know Nagano well. Cheers, PJ

    • Hi PJ, Thanks, I know a bit about global collaboration in media projects, the way this group have begun is new for me though. Would be great to meet soon, and talk about ideas. Cheers M.

  2. Hi Miles,

    This is a really interesting analysis, and the Facebook page sounds like one of the few ‘bottom-up’ community sites that seemed to work well (there was some chatter about a Facebook site in the MOOC I was looking at but it didn’t seem to go anywhere). I wonder why it was different in this case … passion for the topic perhaps?

    Lovely film as well, wish I was there! :-(

  3. Lovely film Miles – I read it, in the context of the rest of your piece, as a comment on solitude and isolation in contrast to what sounds like the frenetic activity of the MOOC you discuss.

    I like the way you construct a clear narrative here, which issues from your position within the MOOC as a participant/observer, and which begins to build a story about participation across two different environments – I wanted to hear more about these, and how they developed, though I realise this probably isn’t possible given the scope of the task.

    What I did wonder was the extent to which the Futurelearn space, and the Facebook space, might map differently onto Kozinets’ notions of ‘building’, ‘cruising’, ‘bonding’ and ‘geeking’ communties, as it seems likely that the different ‘consumption activity’ with which each are concerned would have an affect here. Kozinets suggests that there’s a distinction between:

    ‘Building’ communities (central, unifying interest or activity);
    ‘Cruising’ ones (weaker social ties and low centrality of consumption activity)
    ‘Bonding communities’ (strong social ties but weak centrality of consumption activity)
    ‘Geeking communities’ (high levels of exchange/consumption but weak social ties)

    I wonder to what extent the unifying task of creating the film might define the community as a ‘building’ one, whereas you might expect the less focused Futurelearn social space to constitute as something different?

    Like PJ, I’d really like to know how this MOOC activity pans out – I’d love to see the final video once it’s produced. Thanks for a really intriguing ethnographic artefact.

  4. Hi Sian, There is some really excellent guidance for me here in terms of how I carry this work forward (the project is still very much a ‘live’ one), as I see this area being central in terms of how I am forming my ideas for the final assignment, so we can expect that I will be returning to this theme. Again, really appreciated, thanks!

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